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Preparing for and recovering from an infection outbreak

Photograph: Shutterstock

Recent research indicates that consumers are more concerned than ever with a restaurant’s standard of cleanliness. Given this increased spotlight, it’s critical not only to maintain daily cleaning and disinfection protocols but also to have an up-to-date outbreak response and recovery plan. Whether it’s a respiratory virus, a foodborne illness or any other type of outbreak, any such disruption can wreak havoc on a food establishment, affecting both its daily operation and its reputation.

Restaurants should work with a trusted cleaning chemical company to establish customized plans for their operations. The following guidelines and practices are recommended by P&G Professional for food establishments to use to recover from an outbreak or exposure.

Restaurants should establish a strategy before an outbreak occurs, with clear roles and procedures to prepare managers and employees for recovery from the spread of infection. There are two main elements of this strategy: first, forming the outbreak remediation/recovery team; and second, developing the sanitation recovery plan.

Forming an outbreak remediation team is essential to the success of a restaurant’s recovery. At the minimum, the team should consist of:

  • A recovery manager to lead the overall response team, develop the recovery plan and coordinate with government and health officials.
  • A health manager, provided by the cleaning chemicals partner, who will be in charge of providing necessary information on products and procedures.
  • Sanitation team members who will execute the plan.

Once established, the team can develop the remediation plan. The plan will be dependent on many factors, such as the specific pathogen, root cause, local regulatory requirements and more. Within the plan, a few basic guidelines should be followed:

  • Evaluate the health of all employees. Implement work exclusion and restriction plans for employees who show symptoms of illness, have been diagnosed with an illness or have been exposed to an infected person.
  • Assess and emphasize personal hygiene. Proper hand-washing is a critical element in lowering the risk of transmitting disease. The recovery manager, restaurant owner or other person in charge must meet with all employees to reinforce proper hand-washing and use of gloves and utensils when handling ready-to-eat food. Regular training and reinforcement of hygiene procedures are critical as well, including situations requiring hand-washing, procedures for gloves and procedures for hand sanitization.
  • Identify and train a recovery team. Ensure that all biohazardous accidents are remedied by trained staff who are properly protected for such clean-up activities. Minimum training should include use of personal protective equipment (PPE), review of cleaning procedures and a checklist of items to be cleaned prior to starting unit clean-up.
  • For foodborne illness outbreaks: Plan for suspect and potentially contaminated food. If applicable, the person in charge should work with the corporate food safety manager and government regulatory authority to determine what items need to be held or discarded.
  • Clean and disinfect affected areas. In addition to routine sanitation practices, the clean-up crew should pay particular attention to cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, as well as bathrooms where direct or indirect contamination with feces and/or vomitus is probable. This will help ensure the incident does not recur.
  • Conduct employee training. Continue to emphasize the need for following proper hygiene practices through employee education and active management control. Also, ensure that proper sanitation procedures are being followed at necessary frequencies.
  • Establish new procedures or update existing procedures. Restaurants should update their plans and procedures based on the investigation results to help prevent their incident from recurring.

While an infection outbreak may be unpredictable, restaurants that maintain a high level of cleanliness as part of an everyday routine, as well as have a recovery plan in place and staff trained to respond, will be better prepared to stop an outbreak from occurring and better positioned to recover from an outbreak if one happens.

This post is sponsored by P&G Professional

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